When my friend Robyn came to visit, we attempted to watch Coons! Night of the Bandits of the Night, and barely made it through the trailers before giving up. (So, Rob? Congratulations. You broke me. I am a broken woman now. I hope you’re happy.)
We decided to watch this instead:
I have this poster on my wall, and though you can’t see it from the picture, it has the very best tagline ever. Said tagline?
Survivor Who Kill Everyone Even Though Best Friend.
This is a fair representation of the translation quality throughout the film.
Japan is unhappy with their willful, disobedient children, so they institute the BR Act, which allows them to select one class of ninth graders per year and force them to kill each other until there is only one student left standing.
1. I suppose there’s really no talking about this movie without talking about The Hunger Games.
These movies (and the books they’re based on) have very similar plots, and I like both of them. That being said, Battle Royale did come first — it was published in 1999. So, if we’re going to have any whining, let’s at least make the whining semi-accurate and say that HG copied BR and not the other way around. Although, frankly, I’d be happier if there was no whining at all — the stories certainly have similar setups, but they aren’t carbon copies of one another, and I get tired of rip-off arguments because, honestly. Lots of great stories have similar setups. Or were you one of those people that whined about Super because you felt honor bound to defend Kick-Ass’s honor?
2. Although, I will say . . . while Battle Royale has a lot more characters than The Hunger Games, it also has weaker protagonists. Let’s talk Shuya and Noriko.
Oh, these two. Katniss could kill these useless bastards with her pinkie before she had breakfast. Even Peeta could probably manage it.
It’s not just that Shuya and Noriko aren’t lethal killing machines, or even that they have . . . . *sigh* . . . morals. If I was dropped onto an island tomorrow and told, “Go shoot all your friends,” well, I might have problem with that too, morally as well as physically. (Having poor hand-eye coordination, asthma, and all the grace of a drunk chimpanzee, I suspect I wouldn’t fare well in this game. Call me crazy.)
But there’s a difference between a lead character with principles and a lead character who incessantly whines while doing absolutely nothing of any practical value. Double bonus points if that character has no personality, and triple bonus points if everyone is in love with that character for no good reason at all. You might think I’m describing Noriko here, since this is — unfortunately — all too common with female protagonists, but actually, I’m talking about Shuya. Shuya is a righteous, bitchy heroine who just happens to be a guy. Shuya is Princess Buttercup. Shuya is Bella Swan.
Noriko, herself, is far less annoying than Shuya, but also has even less personality. She is Kind and Virtuous and Innocent. Noriko is Sleeping Beauty when she’s asleep.
3. Also, Shuya is sorta the Bringer of Death here. Given the nature of the game, it’s not terribly surprising that people die around him, but still.
The more exciting Bringers of Death?
Kazuo changes quite a bit from book to screen, but I like him here, anyway. I mean, look at that hair. That hair is just awesome. I want to marry that hair.
Also . . .
Mitsuko has fairly great hair too — because she takes the time to shower on the Island of Death. (Fair warning: if I ever end up playing Battle Royale with you, I’m probably going to be stinky. I waste no time showering when people are trying to shoot me to death.) Despite this, she’s a survivor, and I kind of love her too.
4. Other notable characters you might recognize, at least if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan?
Kuriyama plays Takako Chigusa, and she is, quite simply, the best. I just took a Battle Royale personality quiz, and I got her! (Technically, I got her AND Noriko, but Chigusa was in the #1 spot, so I pick her and choose to ignore Princess Vanilla of the Kingdom Bland.)
5. I have not dressed up as Chigusa for Comic Con, but I have dressed up as the Peppy Instructional Video Girl.
The Peppy Instructional Video Girl tells the students all the rules of the game — there are three days to play, danger zones to avoid, exploding collars around their necks if they misbehave, etc. The students each get a bag with one random weapon inside. Some of the weapons are very useful (machine gun), and some are extremely not (pot lid).
There’s something about the random weapon that appeals to me. Honestly, there’s something about the whole premise that appeals to me — a group of people, whether they be strangers, coworkers, or classmates, are stuck somewhere and are trying like hell to escape and/or survive. There are hundreds of variations on this kind of story, and I don’t always like how they all play out, but I find myself really drawn to them regardless: Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, Lost, Saw, Cube, Persons Unknown, The fucking Breakfast Club. (Admittedly, that one’s a less bloody example, but did you ever feel like John Hughes movies might have been improved with a little more gratuitous violence? I still haven’t seen some of the Molly Ringwald ones, and I think I’d be more interested if at least one person horribly exploded before the movie ended.)
Anyway, I like the psychology and sociology behind these kinds of stories. I like throwing people in a box and seeing who goes crazy, who keeps their word, who overcomes the odds, who backstabs their partners, etc. Which basically means I’m a sadist, and I guess I’m okay with that.
6. Speaking of sadists . . .
Kitano (Takeshi Kitano — or Beat Takeshi) is the class’s bitter ex-teacher, and he’s fairly enjoyable in the role, but . . . . what the hell is going on with him and Noriko?
We’ll go into this more in the Spoiler Section, but these two have a very strange connection, and it’s one of my biggest problems with the movie. Because seriously. There’s this one scene, and it MAKES NO SENSE. AT ALL. Some of it can be explained away, but other parts . . . yeah. It’s an issue.
7. In fact, the additional bits of surrealistic ambiguity that are apparently found in every Japanese film — okay, the handful I’ve seen — is one of the reasons I’d actually be interested in seeing what an American remake would look like. Which, of course, will never happen, less because of The Hunger Games and more because of our serious and depressingly frequent problem with school shootings. I absolutely don’t believe that violence in the media is responsible for such shootings, but I also don’t get to make those kind of calls, so, yeah. Probably never going to see that particular remake.
8. Battle Royale has some world-building problems. Their exposition could use some serious work. (Although, admittedly, some of that could be the shitty translation.) I mean, I get the vague idea . . . kids are out of control; adults want respect; let’s have some government-funded mass murder, etc. But it doesn’t seem like the kids know anything about what’s going on, which seems at odds with not only the beginning, where the winner of last year’s Battle Royale creepily grins at reporters —
— but also with the whole idea of the program. If the intent is to scare the kids into being submissive and good again, then why don’t they know they might someday end up on an island, killing each other? Why isn’t that schooled into them, like Boogeyman stories? Even if they don’t actually believe it, shouldn’t they have at least heard of the BR Act? Or else, the whole thing is just a vindictive punishment — but if so, Japan is apparently extremely ineffective as a totalitarian government.
9. Some dialogue for you —
Kitano: “Cookies sure were good.”
Niida: “I’m in love with you, for real, from before.”
Chigusa: “Wow, great. Wash your face and try again.”
Satomi: “Ouch! It hurts, you assholes! I’m bleeding, godammit!”
Shuya: “I am weak and useless.”
Well, at least he knows it, I guess.
10. Finally, I couldn’t go into spoilers without at least mentioning Shogo . . .
. . . not that I can say much about him without spoilers. But still. SHOGO = AWESOME SAUCE.
For further detail on that, among other things . . .
So, kids are running wild in Japan — one class doesn’t bother to show up to school at all, save sweet, innocent Noriko who desperately apologizes for being late. Her teacher, Kitano, is disheartened by his near-total lack of students, and his day doesn’t get any better after one kid, Nobu, slashes him across the leg with a pocket knife. In their summary, Wikipedia says that Nobu “attacks” Kitano, but the way it’s shot, it looks a lot more like Nobu just happened to be running around with an open switchblade and accidentally ran into Kitano. Either way, Kitano’s like, “Screw this, I’m out,” and quits.
Later — maybe a year later? — these young hooligans are on their class trip to, I don’t know, Japanese Sea World? Anyway, they get kidnapped by the government. Actually, before they get kidnapped, Noriko talks Nobu into coming back to school (which, good going, Noriko) and, also, makes homemade cookies for the bus trip. The cookies are clearly meant for her secret crush, Shuya, but are mostly eaten by Nobu (who has a thing for Noriko) and, later, Kitano (who also has a thing for Noriko, in some undefined and thoroughly creepy way).
Nobu, Shuya, and Noriko take a Foreshadow Polaroid —
— and then they’re all kidnapped by the government. The kids have a hard time understanding how real their situation is until Kitano breaks the rules by throwing a knife at one girl who’s whispering during the training video. It hits her square in the forehead, killing her. In the subsequent freakout, the guards start shooting, and Noriko is hit in the leg.
The kids finish watching their (completely awesome) training video, and Kitano decides to even out the numbers of girl students versus boy students by enacting some petty vengeance on Nobu — that is, he uses the poor kid to demonstrate how the explosive collars around their necks work.
And Shuya’s like, “NOBU!” and then Nobu’s throat explodes, and meanwhile, let’s just go back to that picture again, shall we?
Shuya’s friends wisely keep Shuya from attacking Kitano, and then the games begin. Students leave one at a time, including the “transfer” students — Kazuo and Shogo. Kazuo is the guy who joined up for fun, while Shogo won the game two years ago and is here to exact revenge and/or find out the meaning of his dead girlfriend’s last smile. I’m trying to remember if this is different in the novel — it’s been years since I read it. Kazuo is certainly different — he isn’t a transfer student in the book, and he isn’t just some random, grinning, beautifully-haired psychopath, either. He actually suffered some kind of brain injury in utero that prevents him from feeling emotion or having any real grasp of morality. Shogo is a transfer student, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t just show up that day, and I can’t remember if he volunteered or if he just has supremely shitty luck.
I bring it up mostly because — as with any book adaptation — there are several things that this film just doesn’t have the time to cover, which is too bad. There are, I believe, forty students in the novel, and each and every single student gets some form of backstory, as well as a death scene — which, admittedly, can make for a challenging read. There were two places I had to stop reading, in fact, because I was too depressed to continue without a Cheer-The-Hell-Up break. And while I feel bad for a few characters in the movie, I certainly don’t have the same level of empathy that I had for their literary counterparts.
(Although, it should be said that the book has some issues too. In the novel, everybody is in love with EVERYBODY. It’s ridiculous. Look, I had a crush in ninth grade, too, but I never would have characterized it as love, and I certainly wouldn’t have wasted my time trying to track the guy down because I trusted him and wanted to know if he felt the same way and blah blah blah bullshit. Jesus. Your classmates are trying to KILL YOU, people. PRIORITIZE.)
Anyway. Some kids try and kill each other, while others kill themselves, and some try to escape. Since that’s basically the whole movie . . . here, I’ll just recap it, one fight at a time. (Mostly. I’m excluding a few because, you know. I have important video games to play.)
One kid attacks Shuya with an axe. They go down a hill, and Axe Boy ends up with his axe in his own head. Yuko, who’s hiding nearby, sees enough to think that Shuya murdered Axe Boy.
Mitsuko murders people left and right.
So does Kazuo. (Including two girls who stupidly use a megaphone to call for peace and immediately die for it. As they should.)
Shogo saves Shuya and Noriko’s lives. He goes his own way, but they later stumble upon him after Noriko passes out due to her bullet wound. Shogo mends her leg. He knows how because his father was a doctor. He also makes them an excellent supper. He knows how because his father was a cook. In related news, I love Shogo.
Shinji — paired with his two totally useless friends — sets up base and works on hacking into the government’s system.
Hiroki searches around the island for Chigusa, his best friend, and Kayoko, the girl he likes.
Niida tries the, “Hey, you don’t want to die a virgin,” line on Chigusa. When she laughs at him, he gets angry and basically tells her, hey, I could rape you, if I wanted to. Then he (mostly accidentally) shoots an arrow at her, which cuts her across the face. Chigusa IS A TOTAL BADASS and kills him by stabbing him repeatedly in the crotch and the chest. Unfortunately, Mitsuko is nearby and shoots her. Chigusa gets away but is fatally wounded and dies in Hiroki’s arms.
Kazuo finds Shuya, Noriko, and Shogo. Shuya gets separated and only survives because Hiroki (unfortunately) saves him.
Hiroki takes Shuya to the lighthouse, where about five or six girls are staying. Yukie appears to be the leader, and she’s quite cheerful for a girl in a competition to the death, although perhaps that’s because she’s tending to Shuya’s battle wounds. Yuko, on the other hand, still thinks Shuya’s a murderer and is considerably less enamored with him. She tries to poison Shuya’s soup, but one of the other girls grabs the bowl out of her hands and starts eating from it. (Which is what you get for being a dirty food thief. Remember that)
The poisoned girl dies. The other girls freak out and shoot the shit out of each other. Only Yuko survives, who feels so guilty that she (unfortunately) frees Shuya from his room and kills herself.
Then . . . Noriko and Kitano share a dream? Seriously. They actually both dream about talking to one another on this beach, which . . . I don’t even get. It has no place in this movie that has no other fantastical elements of any kind, and is only there — as far as I can tell — to continue establishing this weird bond between Noriko and Kitano that the filmmakers apparently made up while doing crack. Because it sure as hell doesn’t come from the book. Kitano’s not even their teacher in the book. Hell, his name isn’t even Kitano in the book.
Shogo and Noriko wait at the specified Meet Up Place, hoping Shuya will come. Noriko, FOR NO GODAMNED REASON AT ALL, suddenly runs into the woods to look for Shuya because she, I don’t know, senses his presence? It’s bullshit. She had been boring but perfectly acceptable up until this total Darwin Award moment, and now I’m forced to decide that she deserves to die more than Shuya, after all — and Shuya’s only alive because at least three different people save his worthless life.
Noriko runs into Mitsuko in the woods. Mitsuko is about to kill her when she suddenly gasps and runs away. Who could have scared off Badass Mitsuko? Why, Kitano, of course, who’s just strolling through the woods with an umbrella, as one does. Kitano gives Noriko the umbrella and just fucking wanders away. Then Noriko immediately runs into Shuya, and OMFG. I don’t understand this at all.
Hiroki finds Kayoko with his awesome motion detector. Kayoko has been basically hiding in a building the whole movie. (Point of interest: my Battle Royale strategy would probably be to hide somewhere and only move if I had to pee, or if my hiding spot suddenly became a Danger Zone. Double bonus points if I got the motion detector, which I honest to God would probably have picked over a gun, had I the choice.) Panicked that Hiroki might be trying to kill her, Kayoko shoots him. Hiroki gently tells her that she’s cute and warns her to leave — somebody would have heard the shots. Hiroki dies. Kayoko bursts into guilty tears. Mitsuko pops up and kills her.
We then get a badly-timed flashback to Mitsuko’s past. I forgot to mention it before, but there have been these little flashbacks and, I don’t know, last dying thoughts sporadically scattered throughout the film, which . . . I like the idea of, but a lot of them don’t work very well. Seeing Mitsuko’s sucky childhood is fine, but — spoilers — since she’s about to die in ten seconds or so, it’s an obnoxiously obvious bid at sympathy. I can’t help but be annoyed by it.
Mitsuko picks up Kayoko’s gun. Kazuo pops up out of nowhere and shoots her. Mitsuko comes back to life, like, four times, but eventually she goes down for good.
Shinji successfully hacks the computer system, but Kazuo makes his way to their camp and kills both of Shinji’s friends before they can launch an attack on the military compound. Kazuo manages to kill Shinji too, but not before Shinji blows up this truck, blinding Kazuo.
I’m of two minds about this particular death. On one hand, it’s nice that Shinji’s death accomplishes something. He’s a much more significant character in the novel, and he tries so, SO hard to survive against Kazuo. When Kazuo finally succeeds in killing him . . . ugh, it’s fucking gut-wrenching, particularly because his death doesn’t accomplish a damn thing. This was the second time I had to stop reading for a while.
On the other hand, Shinji doesn’t have as much to work with in the movie, and the way he flips himself over the truck, directly in Kazuo’s path . . . I know it’s supposed to be a self-sacrificing move, but it actually kind of looks like his brain misfires and he leaps in the wrong direction, like that time I was at bat, realized the pitch was wild, and accidentally stepped into it instead of away from it. No one was very happy with me. Anyway, the scene just isn’t shot particularly well, and there’s really no emotional impact from Shinji’s death.
Kazuo and Shogo have a shoot-out. Shogo quickly kills him, cause, you know. It’s kind of less-hard, killing a blind psychopath. Honestly, it’s all a bit anticlimactic. Shuya and Noriko continue to do nothing, of course.
Shogo turns on Shuya and Noriko, supposedly, even though we all know he didn’t. (Although, how great would it have been if he had? I would forgive all of the movie’s faults for that.) He pretends to kill them both and is declared the winner. The army leaves. Shogo makes his way over to Kitano, who’s not particularly surprised to find that Shuya and Noriko are alive. Kitano continues to reveal his creepy obsession with Noriko with this AMAZING painting. Like, seriously, WTF. It’s even funnier when it’s paired with this soaring choir-church music.
Bonus trivia? Beat Takeshi actually painted this thing. I love it. Also?
Kitano tells Noriko to kill him. Noriko points the gun at him but keeps shaking her head. He smiles gently at her and tells her she can do it. This triggers Shuya — oh SHIT, I completely forgot to talk about Shuya’s unnecessarily tragic backstory, where his dad killed himself and wrote things like, “Go for it, Shuya! You can make it, Shuya!” on toilet paper, which he slung around his own dead body. Because that’s encouraging. When Kitano lifts his (water) gun, Shuya shoots the shit out of him. Shuya says, “I made a promise to protect Noriko.” From a water gun, Shuya? No. You have failed. You are a failure. You have done shit this whole movie.
Kitano’s phone rings, and Kitano casually rises from the dead to answer it. (Hilariously, Shogo scoots away from him. Man, I love you, Shogo!) The person on the phone is Kitano’s daughter — because he’s having all these family problems, blah, who cares — and he tosses the phone, then shoots the phone, then eats some of Noriko’s cookies — not a euphemism — and then finally dies. For reals, this time.
Shogo, Shuya, and Noriko leave on a boat. Noriko, looking at the island: “It’s beautiful . . . even though it’s where everyone died.” Heh.
Shogo teaches Shuya how to steer the boat. (Because his dad’s a fisherman. LOVE.) Then he dies because he was secretly wounded in the fight with Kazuo and, also, because it’d be too much to hope that someone likable survives the game. Shuya and Noriko reach land and run through the city in their special incognito baseball caps. And . . . that’s about it.
Well, except for the unnecessary requiems, where we see more flashbacks and dream sequences. This is really only noteworthy for how the subtitles, already not great, get 18 billion times worse.
Kitano: “When I entering first class . . . everyone looks like same. But, time’s gone. Everyone is so cute. But not right now! No, caution to the students. All teachers are just dumb and dumber.”
Noriko: “I want to tell you something.”
Noriko: “The knife, that I stabed with you. Still I care of it. Sometimes I thought I just threw it but, now it’s my treasure. It’s secret . . . between you and me . . .”
. . . what?
It’s actually not a terrible adaptation of a novel, especially considering how hard this particular novel is to translate. Some of the ideas come across, and some of the violence is pretty great too. But Shuya and Noriko are even more boring than they are in the book, and all the stuff with Kitano and Noriko, especially the dream sequence, is too WTF for this story.
Taro Yamamoto (Shogo), maybe? I’m really not sure. Beat Takeshi also does a good job, despite the fact that I hate almost everything to do with his character. And Chiaki Kuriyama is pretty great for the few minutes she has. I like Mitsuko too. Shit, I don’t know if I can choose a winner.
The best way to encourage your child to be the ball and achieve great things is to kill yourself, obviously, and write these sentiments down on the same paper one uses to wipe one’s ass.
Also, if you want to survive Battle Royale? Be as dull as possible, and stick close to more dangerous people who will keep you safe.